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US Looking for 'Right Time' to Release Peace 'Roadmap' for Mideast - 2003-03-14

Secretary of State Colin Powell conceded Thursday the United States would probably have more international support on Iraq if it had been able to make progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making. But in Congressional testimony, he insisted the Bush administration remains engaged with both sides and is looking for the "right time" to launch a so-called "roadmap" for peace.

Appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Powell agreed with critics that little progress has been made under President Bush toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But he said it was not because of a lack of effort on the part of the administration, and he apportioned most of the blame to Palestinian violence against Israelis.

"We have worked very hard, but we have not been anywhere near as successful, or as successful as I would have hoped or imagined at the very beginning," he said. "The principal problem has been the continuing violence and terrorism that has come from the Palestinian side, directed against the state of Israel. In response, the state of Israel has not been able to do some of the things that I would have liked to see Israel do to move the process along."

Mr. Powell was responding to comments by subcommittee Democrat Jesse Jackson Junior of Illinois, who asked what the administration plans to do about its lost credibility in the Middle East. Another Democrat, Wisconsin's David Obey, said he initially agreed with cold-shoulder treatment the Bush administration gave Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after the collapse of former President Clinton's Camp David summit. But Mr. Obey said the lack of engagement with Palestinians now is causing severe harm, as a war with Iraq looms closer.

"I just believe it is foolhardy for us to be doing something to the Arab world, if at the same time we are doing something for them and for the Israelis at the same time," he said. "Because as you know, there is never any progress in the Middle East unless we are deeply involved. And I just think we are making a profound mistake in not being more aggressive in seeking out contacts, other than Arafat if you want. But just to make it clear that we're that we're not going to abandon the Middle East to the violence that's seen on al-Jazeera television every night."

Mr. Powell insisted the administration is "deeply engaged" with the parties and is "looking for the right time" to release the peace roadmap being prepared jointly by the United States and the other members of the Middle East diplomatic "quartet" - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

The roadmap, which the secretary said is nearly complete, lays out a series of reciprocal steps by Israeli and the Palestinians over a three-year period leading to a final settlement that includes Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel.

Mr. Powell said the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinians' prime minister, puts a "new dynamic in play" and said he hoped the veteran Palestinian figure, also known as Abu Mazen, will be given sufficient authority to, in his words "allow us to move forward."